Santa Monica’s Southeast Asian darling Cassia captured the attention of The New York Times last month for its lamb breast and charcuterie, but there’s obviously more to the 200-seat brasserie than Pete Wells’ recap. Behind the bar, Kenny Arbuckle has mastered a cocktail menu that flows well with chef Bryant Ng’s Singaporean and Vietnamese fare. “They’re mostly designed that way, with intentions to go with the food but not direct pairings,” Arbuckle said. “In a general sense, they’re all meant to work together as part of the whole experience.”
Arbuckle’s cocktails achieve his intention of working with the whole Cassia experience, capturing the flavors and colors of Southeast Asia. It’s a menu that reads exotic and classic at the same time, playing with tropical ingredients while keeping in mind the palate of Los Angeles drinkers. We talked to Arbuckle about how to navigate your options.
“Cocktails here are more of an aperitif than a throughout-dinner experience,” Arbuckle said. With that in mind, start your night at Cassia with something from the “Lighter & Apéritif” portion of the drinks menu. Since sherry is one of Arbuckle’s preferred drinks, order the Starfruit Sherry with Fino sherry, starfruit, orgeat, lime and Thai basil. It’s light with a soft sweetness that lets you appreciate the low ABV. The Dragonfruit Collins looks intense with its vibrant, fuchsia color, but the cocktail is more grown-up than it looks, incorporating Bonal, Suze, whiskey, dragonfruit and lime.
At the raw bar
Cassia is a brasserie, and one with a stunning raw bar that Arbuckle gets to stare at all shift long. This view inspired an oceanic Negroni spinoff, the Hop Sea Negroni. Arbuckle started with the idea of beginning a meal with oysters and an aperitif. The result yielded tequila, Punt e Mes vermouth, Cocchi (an aperitif infused with hops) and oyster shell–infused mezcal with a salmon roe and cucumber garnish.The oyster-shell element isn’t overwhelming, as it’s just a rinse for the glass and a final spritz garnish to add some minerality. “A lot of times in cocktails, people will add a little salt for the same reason you add it to food, as a flavor enhancer. That does the same thing,” Arbuckle said.
If you’ve hit your limit for alcohol intake, head to the “Non-Alcoholic” section of the drink menu. Arbuckle has put in work to make Cassia’s booze-free options, particularly the seasonal house-made fruit sodas, worth noting. “The sodas are done with the same intentions as the entirety of the beverage program, in that the drinks are meant to complement the food,” he said. “The composition of the sodas are usually a combination of flavors to give depth and balance.” Arbuckle looks for fruits with some acid to work as both refreshing yet bold enough to stand up to the foods’ spice, as in the boysenberry ginger soda or muddled green gage plum with osmanthus syrup and lime.
1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica; (310) 393-6699, cassiala.com.